Maps reveal how each U.S. state enforces drug laws differently

Drug use and arrests are rising overall, but those changes vary depending on the state.

Maps reveal how each U.S. state enforces drug laws differently
Detox.net
  • Detox.net recently published maps that use the latest government data on drug use and arrests to show how enforcement varies across the country.
  • Marijuana arrests remain significantly high in many states, even in some where pot's legalized.
  • Methamphetamine is, by far, the drug most commonly involved in drug-related offenses across the country.

American law enforcement agencies made 1.63 million arrests for drug law violations in 2017, according to FBI data. That's nearly a 4 percent increase from 2016, and it breaks down to about one drug arrest every 20 seconds. About 85 percent of those arrests were for possession.

The 2017 National Drug Use And Health survey from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration shows that drug use and availability are on the rise across the country. At the state level, however, the data illustrate a varied and more nuanced picture.

Detox.net, an online addiction treatment resource owned by the company American Addictions Centers, recently published a report highlighting the different ways in which states charge and punish drug offenders.

In 30 states, methamphetamine was the drug most frequently involved in drug-related offenses for 2017.

That's partly because meth is more tightly regulated, controlled and monitored than other drugs, as Dr. Stephen Pannel, medical director of Oxford Treatment Center in Mississippi, told Big Think.

"Crystal meth is the drug most frequently seen in criminal offenses, because possessing just a small amount can lead to very significant criminal consequences," Dr. Pannel said. "Once a person is hooked on meth, it requires a large amount to maintain the habit. This usually leads to criminal behaviors including theft, to support the habit with money."

Marijuana was the most cited drug in offenses for only two states in 2017. Still, it's surprising to note that, despite increasingly lax cultural attitudes and the legalization of pot in 10 states, marijuana arrests are actually on the rise, with one person being arrested every 48 seconds, according to FBI data released in September.

The map above shows the percentage of total drug offenses attributable to marijuana in 2017. Each state clearly varies in how it pursues marijuana enforcement, especially those which have decriminalized pot, such as Connecticut, Delaware and New Hampshire. Interestingly, Colorado still arrests many people for marijuana offenses, which can include public consumption, illegal sales and underage possession.

A more consistent pair of metrics across the states are the rates of plea deals and prison sentences for drug offenses.

Rhode Island stands out with an exceptionally low share of drug offenses ending in prison time, likely a result of the state's move to roll back mandatory minimum sentencing in recent years.

The rates of sentencing might be fairly consistent on the national level, but the severity of punishment seems to vary across the states, with Iowa as the strictest state and Arizona as the most relaxed.

A 'wake-up' call

Dr. Pannel said he hopes the report helps draw attention to the drug epidemic in the U.S.

"This study serves as a wake-up call on the magnitude of the problem and how the drug epidemic is impacting our criminal justice system. What it shows is that millions of Americans are charged with drug-related crimes and many are incarcerated for it. We hope this will help start a conversation about the need for treatment to help deter these types of crimes."

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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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